printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Current U.S. Foreign Policy Issues

Michael A. Hammer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs

Washington, DC
July 26, 2012

3:00 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: All right. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very pleased to welcome you to the Foreign Press Center this afternoon. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Susan Stevenson. I’m the new director of the Foreign Press Center since June. It’s my pleasure to introduce a man who needs no introduction, but I will add this is his first time briefing here since officially being confirmed as the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Mr. Mike Hammer.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Wow. I like that. Thank you. Thank you very much, Susan. And we’re delighted to have her here as our new director of the Foreign Press Center. And I trust that she and her staff, Doris and everyone else, are providing you good support. We always want to make sure that we are accessible to you and try to address many of the issues that you’re interested in so you can best understand our foreign policy.

I wanted to just do a little shout-out. Having been previously an intern twice before coming into the Foreign Service, I know we have three interns that have been working here at the Foreign Press Center, and I know that it’s something that hopefully they’ll find inspiring enough to perhaps one day join us in the Foreign Service or civil service at the State Department, as we’re always looking for young and intelligent talent. Jessica Andrews, who’s pursuing a master’s at American University. We have Vicki Chen, who is currently studying at the University of Southern California. And we also have Margarita Botero, who is currently with the FPC HIV/AIDS tour down in Miami. So thank you to those interns for the contributions they make and for helping us out.

As – we’ll have a plentiful opportunity to have an exchange. I’d also say hi to our colleagues who may be up at the New York Foreign Press Center. I expect we’ll have a very robust agenda when we come up to UNGA in September, and I hope to have an opportunity to brief you all when I’m up there. I will focus the questions on the folks that are here, but if there are a couple from New York, we’ll probably try to accommodate those as well.

As you have probably seen from the Secretary’s incredible record-breaking travel, we are extremely engaged around the world with a very fulsome foreign policy agenda, doing the kind of work that is necessary to maintain and strengthen existing alliances with NATO and our European partners and addressing some of the economic crises that are ongoing and that perhaps some of you are interested in following, as the economy is something that’s critical. You’ve heard the Secretary and the President both speak to how important it is for us to take those steps necessary to improve our economy at home and also work with our partners to improve the international economic environment. And we’re doing a lot in terms of economic statecraft.

We have been, in the recent trip the Secretary took, really focused quite a bit on Asia and our renewed focus and pivot to that region, as it’s clearly one – as the United States is a Pacific power, we want to continue our strong relationships with countries like the Republic of Korea and Japan, Australia, but also to participate in the regional institutions that are emerging and ensuring that there are opportunities there for economic growth, for promoting democracy, and we’re very engaged on those issues.

There may be, I’m sure, a few questions on the ongoing situation in the Middle East, in particular Syria or Iran. And as you’re well aware, we’re looking to manage the challenges and the opportunities that are resulting from the Arab Spring. We’ve seen incredible developments and progress in Libya, with the recent elections in Tunisia, Egypt with the swearing-in of their new President, democratically elected President Morsi. And you have ongoing efforts in Yemen to move forward.

We have, as you can tell, a robust agenda in which the Secretary is always working to elevate the role of diplomacy and development. It’s critically important that we do our work. As part of that, she’s launched the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which has enabled us to be – always be looking to see how we can strengthen our diplomatic efforts, including through work – as she likes to call it, 21st century statecraft.

In innovation, a lot of the work that we do in Public Affairs, as you may know, is to try to reach broader and newer audiences, the work that we do with social media. Yesterday, some of you may have seen, I did a Spanish Twitter briefing. We’re doing briefings in Spanish. We’re doing more Twitter in languages, and now we’re up to 10 foreign language Twitter feeds.

So again, we are very keen, on the part of the State Department, to be promoting our policies so that they’re well understood. And with that, I think I just want to allow you to just ask some questions.

Go ahead. You had your hand up first, so we’ll go to you. That was quick.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Maybe you’ll be second then.

QUESTION: Long practice.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: But we won’t only call on the front row.

QUESTION: Hi, Mike. Dmitry Kirsanov, Itar-Tass. Welcome to the Foreign Press Center.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Yeah, glad to meet you.

QUESTION: Thanks a lot to the guys, to the unsung heroes at the FPC for bringing you here.

On Syria, the Action Group on Syria – and I wanted to quote the final statement – said in Geneva that – agreed in Geneva to (inaudible) apply sustained pressure on parties in the Syrian Arab Republic to basically implement Kofi Annan’s six-point plan and two Security Council resolutions. I was wondering if the United States is still making any meaningful efforts to push the Syrian opposition into – in a real dialogue with the Bashar Assad government. And if yes, I would like you to speak in some details about that. Or at this point of time, you just decided to give up on the dialogue and decided to concentrate on giving any assistance and help necessary to the opposition to win this conflict militarily.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, thank you, Dmitry, for that question. We are working – not only the United States but a number of countries around the world, close to 100 who are very critically focused on the grave situation in Syria in making every effort that we can to urge an end to the violence and to begin a political transition, which is the best way forward. The Annan plan provided a basis for it that people agreed to support, but we were unable to, as you know, at the UN, get the last resolution through due to a double veto by China and Russia, that would’ve brought consequences to a lack of inaction by the Assad regime.

Our focus is to support the opposition with nonlethal means. I understand they’re meeting today in Qatar. They’re looking to see how to move forward to try to create the kind of environment in Syria that will allow for the Syrian people to achieve their aspirations to live in peace, security, and have their rights respected. Unfortunately, that is not happening fast enough. Assad must go. He needs to understand, as he’s seen, as he’s losing hold of territory and of his country, that the violence is not the way to resolve this. He should remove himself from power. And those around him – and you’ve seen in recent days increasing number of defections. Those around him who are not prepared to take on the kinds of actions and egregious crimes against their own people – against the Syrians – should follow course and abandon him.

This is a situation that is, of course, of supreme concern in terms of what is happening around Aleppo. And we are now focused as the United States, with a number of other countries, on what happens next, how to prepare Syria for a day without Assad and a day in which all the different ethnic groups can come together and to form the kind of government that is representative of the Syrian people and that will provide them an opportunity for the kind of Syria that they all envision, one that clearly will not have to suffer the carnage that the Syrian Government is currently carrying out against its own people.

All right. So (inaudible) were second. Then we’ll vary around. Okay.

QUESTION: Hello. I am Irina Gelevska, a correspondent for Macedonian television in Washington. I want to ask you about the – two days ago, the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, was in Macedonia. He made clear that he will talk with the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to accept the invitation from the Macedonian side for high-level talks on the name dispute. Will the U.S. support such effort or, if you like, do you – will you join Mr. Ban Ki-moon in his request?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. Well, I think as you well know, our longstanding position is that we welcome the United Nations efforts and Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s comments urging Macedonia and Greece to seek a resolution to this ongoing name dispute. We agree with the Secretary General that there is a need for a re-energized engagement and effort. We continue – the United States continues to support those ongoing efforts by Matthew Nimetz of the UN to settle this name dispute in the short term and in short order. So we strongly encourage the active engagement directly between Athens and Skopje, and hope that in fact a resolution to this name issue can be achieved quickly.

Okay, let’s go – maybe in the back. Yeah, in the middle there. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Ambassador Hammer, I am always happy to see you here. Actually, I got a question about relations among South Korea, the United States, and Japan.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: They’re terrific. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thanks. I understand that Japan is very important in your Asia strategy. I mean, (inaudible) to the region. But South Korea and – as you know, South Korea and several other Asian nations are worried about Japan’s possible military buildup, armament. Many express concern that Washington’s support for Japan may damage the alliance between Seoul and Washington. What’s your view on the matter? Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, I appreciate the question. As you know, we’re deeply engaged and active with our partners in Asia, but very specifically the two very strong allies and alliances that we have, both with the Republic of Korea and with Japan. And we want to see the type and level of cooperation amongst our allies that helps to promote greater stability and prosperity in the region.

So it’s clear to us that we want to work with our partners. We understand that some issues can sometimes not be agreed upon, but if we all work together, we have common values and common principles that we all share. And so through dialogue, you can come overcome whatever differences there might be. In terms of the arrangements between Japan and South Korea, that’s obviously a matter for them to address. But from the United States perspective, we are very encouraged and very bullish on the state of our relationships with both of those countries.

And of course, we together discuss a number of important issues. Japan recently hosted a very important Afghan donors conference. The Japanese are coming tomorrow for some talks. And of course, with our Korean counterparts, we are in constant contact about some of the concerns of North Korea. And so this is something that we put a high premium on, a heavy focus on, something that I think you saw very evidenced by the recent trip that the Secretary took through the region. And we will continue this level of engagement, because I think it’s in both our interests and trilateral interests, if you will, to keep promoting the best ties possible.

Yes, sir. Over here.

QUESTION: Emile Baroody. I’m with the Al Mayadeen TV. I want to go back to Syria a little bit. What would be a game changer in Syria? What would push the U.S. to go beyond what it’s doing now, like trying to convince Russia and China more humanitarian and nonlethal aid to the opposition? What would push the U.S. to go beyond that? What – I don’t want to bring bad memories, but what would the Srebrenica be in Syria?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. Well, again, I don’t want to sort of get into hypotheticals. I mean, what is clear is what we are doing: working with the international community, with our partners in the region, with Europeans and many, many other countries who want to bring an end to the violence and the abhorrent activities of the Assad regime.

And we think the best way in which to try to achieve that – and it’s something that we’re working on – are the kind of measures we’re undertaking in terms of nonlethal assistance to the opposition in terms of trying to encourage and work with the opposition to try to develop the kind of political framework to be able to then advance once Assad leaves power. And we are confident that his days are numbered, that he is losing his grip on the country, and that momentum is clearly against him.

So we want to remain focused on this. We will continue to put the economic squeeze on Assad. You saw the sanctions – additional sanctions that the EU placed on him and his colleagues and those that are really a threat to the peace and the people of Syria.

So that is the focus of our efforts. We obviously will hold those who are responsible for heinous crimes responsible, and they will be accountable. And they should keep in mind that if military officers who are in a difficult spot and feel they need to be carrying out orders from Assad, they should do as some of their colleagues have done and just defect and look to be part of what will be a better future for the Syrian people.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: If a massacre happens in Aleppo.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Again, we are focused on putting pressure on Assad so that –

QUESTION: We know that.


QUESTION: What would change – I mean –


QUESTION: Is it a dead end?


QUESTION: Is it a dead end, going to go until –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: We – he will go. He is at and will get to a dead end. So that’s inevitable from our perspective. And so we’re working, again, with trying to create the kind of circumstances that, one, will bring about his rapid demise, and secondly, that will certainly provide for the political transition that we want to see in which the Syrian people can then be the determinants of their future.

Okay. Let me come over here.

QUESTION: Yeah. Hi, Mike. Maria with EFE News Services in Washington. I don’t know if you saw the statement that Raul Castro made today after the march celebrating – or an act connected to the revolution. He said that he’s willing to open up a dialogue on all topics, including human rights and freedom of the press, with the U.S., but on equal terms, because, quote, “Cuba is not a colony or a country that’s submissive to the U.S.” So what is your response to his renewed offer for an open dialogue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, we did see his remarks, and I would say that this Administration has repeatedly stated that the U.S. Government is open to forging a new relationship with Cuba, but that the government of Cuba, Castro’s government, must begin by allowing the Cuban people to exercise their human rights and freely determine their future. In order for the United States to be fully engaged with Cuba, this would need to include allowing Cubans to exercise freedom of expression and the right to petition their government. It would include ending mistreatment of peaceful civil society dissidents, the release of political prisoners, and I must also stress also the humanitarian release of the American citizen who’s being held there, Alan Gross, of whom we remain every day very concerned about his health and his welfare.

So our message is very clear to the Castro government, and that is that they need to begin to allow for the political freedoms and expression that the Cuban people demand. And we are prepared to discuss with them how this can be furthered, but they are the ones that are responsible, ultimately, for taking those actions. And to date, we haven’t seen that. In fact, we saw some most unfortunate and despicable recent activities with the tragic death of Oswaldo Paya when folks – the Cuban friends of his – were at his funeral, they were detained. I understand most of them have been released. They should all be released. But again, the authoritarian tendencies are very evident almost each and every day in Cuba, and that needs to be ended and there needs to be a new direction for the Castro regime.

All right, let me take – yes, right up here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary Hammer. My name is Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. My question is on South China Sea. Today at the press briefing, Toria said the U.S. is very concerned by the unilateral actions of China. But previous to China’s action last month, Vietnam passed its maritime law to claim the sovereignties in South China Sea. And also, the same issues happened on Senkaku Island or Diaoyu Island. Japan is going to buy the island. So my question is: Did this kind of unilateral actions raise your concerns as well?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Of course they do. Toria and I work together. No, I mean, in terms of the unilateral actions that we’re talking about, our approach to the South China Sea, I think, is well understood. I mean, we do not take a position on competing sovereignty claims over land features in the South China Sea. We call on all claimants to clarify and pursue their claims in accordance with international law, including as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.

So the U.S. position is clear. We support a collaborative, diplomatic process by all claimants to resolve these disputes, and we are concerned about unilateral actions. There should be dialogue among the countries in the region. It’s something we’ve been trying to promote, and therefore we need to ensure that these questions are resolved within the framework of existing international law and through dialogue and not any measures that are seen as potential threats to some in the region.

All right. Let me go – maybe –


ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Yeah. Maybe go to a question in New York.

QUESTION: Paolo Mastrolilli for the Italian daily newspaper, La Stampa. Thank you, Mike, for doing this. This is a question about the economic crisis in Europe. In the last 48 hours, Spain, France, in part Italy have been pushing for the application of the agreement of the end of June. Do you share the preoccupation by a country like France, Italy, Spain, that time is running out to avoid the collapse of the euro?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, thanks for your question, New York. I appreciate it. I hope to see you when I’m up there in September in person. Well, as you well know, the United States has an enormous stake in the health and vitality of the European economy, and we are confident that Europeans have the ability to take the necessary measures to overcome this financial crisis. And this is really something that is up to the Europeans themselves to make the decisions that need to be made going forward, although the United States will most certainly do everything we can to support the difficult decisions that lie ahead, and we look forward to continuing to engage our European partners at the highest levels.

And this is a high priority for the President, for Secretary Geithner, for Secretary Clinton, so this is an issue that obviously we’re engaged in and that we want to see our European partners succeed because the impact of the ongoing economic crisis in Europe will certainly be felt also in the United States and around the world.

Let’s go back to – oh, Lalit, good to see you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, and congrats again. Two questions: How do you see the evolution of India-U.S. relationship in this three-and-a-half years of the Obama Administration? And secondly, on Burma, do you consider Burma as a foreign policy success of this Administration?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, thank you, Lalit. It won’t surprise you to hear from me, from my times both working at the White House and now back at the State Department, to be very high and positive about the evolution and growth of U.S.-Indian relations over the past three years, but also beginning perhaps with President Clinton’s administration, continuing with President Bush’s administration. But President Obama developed a fantastic working relationship with Prime Minister Singh that you’re well aware of. I also want to extend congratulations to India on the election and to President Mukherjee on his election, and we look forward also to working with him as well.

So I think what we’ve seen is the growth of this partnership that we enjoy with India based on common values, and it’s something that I think both of our peoples benefit from tremendously, and we recognize the importance of India as a important regional and global power, and it’s why we are very keenly interested in continuing to grow that relationship, as we also look to address regional issues and global issues that are of mutual concern.

With respect to Burma, I’m not here to sort of pass judgment on what are successes or failures, but rather I would say that I think there’s an opportunity here that is quite encouraging in terms of seeing the opening that Burma appears to be undertaking in terms of reforms and the kind of path that I think the international community has been hoping to see for Burma for many, many years. And while we are clear-eyed that this is just the beginning, we are certainly encouraged by the steps that are being taken by the Burmese Government. As you know, we have sent our Ambassador. Ambassador Mitchell is now on the ground and working these issues. And we want to try to continue to encourage the positive trend and ensuring that every group’s rights are respected and that people will have an opportunity to express themselves democratically going forward.

It’s a signal also to those regimes who remain isolated and outside the international community of nations because of their thuggishness and brutality. And so I think that there are benefits that Burma can reap from moving in this direction that hopefully will be a model for others who are exercising dictatorships and who are not allowing their people to evolve in a democratic way, that there’s something that can – good that can most certainly come by being included as part of members of the international community.

And that’s the kind of effort we want to see. We want to encourage those – even the most extreme – to rethink where they are. They’re on the wrong side of history. History will demonstrate it. And they’re bound not to last. I think it shows from recent world events that when people have had enough, it’ll make itself clear in that governments need to be responsive to the needs of their people, or over time they will be held accountable and will go into the dustbin of history if they don’t do what is necessary to, again, respect the rights of their people and to allow them to have the economic opportunity and political freedoms that all human beings desire.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Burma?


QUESTION: Ali Aslan, Zaman newspaper with Turkey. The Muslim minority in Burma is under severe attack. What is your reaction to that?

And a second question on Syria: Turkey and the United States consider PKK a terrorist organization, a common enemy. And according to some recent reports, some groups closely aligned with PKK are increasing their control over some regions – Kurdish regions in Syria. Do you have any concerns?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, first, to your follow-up on Burma, Secretary Clinton had the opportunity to meet with President Thein Sein on the 13th of this month and discussed this issue of concern in terms of these violent incidents. And we are urging calm, we are certainly urging the Burmese Government to investigate these attacks, and to bring those responsible to justice and through due process and expeditiously. Again, it’s an issue that is of concern, that I’m sure also our Ambassador will be following up with, with the Burmese Government. We want to make sure that all ethnic groups in Burma are able to live in peace and that there’s respect for minority rights, even as they try to move forward in hopefully establishing a true democratic path.

With regards to the second question, I would say that, as I think my counterpart and colleague Toria Nuland addressed today at her briefing, that we are focused, in terms of the Kurdish population in Syria, encouraging them to take part in the efforts of the opposition to start thinking through what the future might bring. And so there is no room for terrorism. There is no room for the kind of violence that is being seen. And if, I think, people see that there is an opportunity to advance their interests through a political process, then that’s, I think, what will become the focus. And that’s certainly the focus of our efforts.

Yes. Why don’t we come over here?

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary. Jun Kaminishikawara with Kyodo News, Japanese news agency. I would just like to follow up my colleague’s question on the South China Sea. She asked about unilateral action on the South China Sea by China, so – I think she also asked about Senkaku Island, which is now under Japanese administration. Do you think the same rules should be applied to Senkaku Island as to South China Sea?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Yeah. I think our position on the Senkaku Islands are – is pretty clear, and we’ve stated it consistently so I’m not going to go further. But again, just to make sure that it’s understood that on some of these territorial disputes and some of these issues, that our view is that it needs to be addressed diplomatically, and again, within the existing framework of international law.

All right. I know there’s another question in New York. I don’t want to just simply go to New York, but I see that there’s somebody up there.

QUESTION: Secretary Hammer, good afternoon from New York. I’m Natasha Israni with Times Now. Now, President Obama has previously said that the India-U.S. partnership is one of the defining strategic partnerships of the 21st century. At the same time, especially recently, and in the past as well, while he has talked about increasing business and trade between the two countries, he’s also been very critical of outsourcing jobs to India. This has come up again more so recently.

So how does President Obama and his Administration reconcile these two views that they want to increase business and trade, including jobs, both in India and the U.S., but at the same time this criticism of sending American jobs to India?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, thank you for your question. It’s good seeing you again. Excuse me. As President Obama and Secretary Clinton have said, it’s very important for America to get our economy on track. And we’re always looking for opportunities to promote American business and American jobs. As a way of promoting American business and American jobs, we’re always looking to advance free trade opportunities and to develop the kind of important trade relationships like the one with India, which I think can be beneficial to both countries.

And the key here is to lower barriers, to ensure that there’s a free and fair and level playing field so that, again, both countries can compete and look to see how best to promote sort of economic growth and business opportunities. And that’s the focus of our effort. We will always, as the United States, be looking to create jobs for America, but we also see that through our relationships and through increased trade, that does create increasing number of jobs not only in the country that we’re partners with, but also at home.

So I don’t see a contradiction in that. Again, the efforts are focused on creating economic growth, and that provides opportunity because when there are – when there’s growth in India, that creates markets for American products. And so the key here is, again, to work in partnership to ensure that the opportunities are available for our U.S. businesses to succeed and to promote an investment climate that we hope is beneficial and allows for that kind of economic activity.

Let’s come back here. Yes, sir? Oh, you want to go? Well, we’ll go here and then – yeah. We have time for a few more, so --

QUESTION: Hi. So with the recent shooting of several Indian sailors off of the coast of Iran, I was wondering whether that has dampened the relationship between India and the U.S. at all or whether that’s been brought up. And also, the Communist Party within India called for the arrest of the captain of that vessel. I was wondering what your opinion is on that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. Well, we’re in direct contact with the Indian Government on this tragic incident and have expressed our condolences to the families. It’s being investigated. I don’t have an update on the status of that investigation, and for that I would need to defer you to the Department of Defense. But it’s something that’s being looked into. And of course, we very much value our relationship with India and will continue to work closely and partner with India as we go beyond this particular incident.

Let me then come back to you. Yes.

QUESTION: Thomas Gorguissian, Tahir newspaper, Egypt. With the new realities taking place in Egypt, what are your terms of and types of engagement with the new rulers; i.e., in particular the Muslim Brotherhood?

And second, what are the issues – the main issues of concern for the policymakers here regarding Egypt and shaping new Egypt in the coming days and weeks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, first I want to say that Secretary Clinton had a very good meeting with President Morsi when she was in Egypt. She felt she had a good visit and is offering America’s goodwill and willingness certainly to work with the new democratically elected Egyptian Government to try to create the opportunities, particularly on the economic side, which is something, of course, the Egyptian people are very keen on.

Our focus is, again, to support the aspirations of the Egyptian people. It’s been a remarkable turn of events over the past year, and we want to see Egypt succeed in its newborn democracy. And so it’s critically important that we work together in advancing our shared interests, but we look to the government and President Morsi in particular to take the steps that will – and are necessary to advance national unity, to uphold universal values, to respect the rights of all Egyptians, including women, religious minorities such as the Coptic Christians, and to be inclusive. And that is something, obviously, I think the Egyptian people want as they pursue their aspirations for democracy, for their dignity, for opportunity, and to fulfill the promise of their revolution. And so that is really what the focus of our effort is.

You may have heard we’re intending to send an important trade delegation to Egypt as a follow-up to that visit. I think it’s – an issue that is of utmost concern to Egyptians is to now bounce back from a difficult economic time as a result of the unrest, and to signal that Egypt is moving in a very positive direction so it can start to attract the kind of tourism and investment that is necessary for a successful democracy while at the same time, of course, ensuring that you’re respecting the rights of all individuals. So we’re comfortable, clearly, dealing with the newly elected president of Egypt, with members of the Muslim Brotherhood as they accept Egypt’s constitution and work within the constitutional framework. So we will be looking to continue to improve and work on those ties, again, for the benefit of both our people.

MODERATOR: We have time for one more question?


QUESTION: Regarding the economic delegation, when is it going to happen and in what level?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Right. That’s still being worked out. When we have news, we will obviously announce it. We want it to be a robust and important delegation because we think, again, this is the kind of effort that is beneficial to Egypt. Also, there’s great American interest in investing in Egypt’s future, if you will, and that can be a tremendous opportunity. And again, it’s critically important, and so that is one of the elements that we’re very focused on in trying, again, to develop the kind of relationship that I think would be positive for both countries.

Yes, sir. I’ve got to call on Sonia before I leave, or she’ll never forgive me. She’s in the back. (Laughter.) Normally I see you in this front chair. So anyway, but we’ll go here and – yeah, that’s all right.

QUESTION: Hi Mike, this is Ercan Demir from TRT Turkish Radio and Television. My question is about chemical weapons in Syria. There are a lot of talks about these weapons and concerns recently. Do you discussing this subject with Turkey, what Turkey can do about it? What are your concerns about this (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, I think from the President to the Secretary to us in every podium, we have made extremely clear that it is completely unthinkable and unacceptable that chemical weapons would be used. We also appreciate the efforts on the part of our Russian counterparts to deliver the same message to Damascus and Assad. And I think it’s very important that the international community make it very clear – and has – that this would just be horrific and cannot occur. So I’m sure as a measure of our very close discussions with Turkey on a full range of issues, but in particular relating to Syria, I can only imagine that this issue has come up. And it’s one that we’re very focused on to try to ensure that this not happen and try to prevent it from happening.

Again, I think we’re running out of time, but I did say I would call on Sonia. She shows up at all my briefings, so I have to call on her. (Laughter.) Wherever I go, she’s there. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Sonia Schott, Globovision, Venezuela. I was wondering if you can make some comments regarding the new executive secretary from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. I will like to know, is the U.S. pleased about the election? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: I shouldn’t have called on her. (Laughter.) I actually am not up-to-date on that. I thought you were going to ask a different question relating to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. So again – since I didn’t answer her question, is there one last one somebody’s really itching? New York? Should we go to New York?

QUESTION: Yeah. Is the Obama Administration’s (inaudible) policy that is (inaudible) to the Asia or Asia Pacific? And the election is coming, so the new administration is – will have (inaudible). Do you think that the U.S. will give this policy to the next administration?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HAMMER: Well, the State Department – and we don’t do politics – all I would say is that I think there’s ample and broad recognition that the future of this century, much of it will be propelled by the Asian economy, by developments in Asia, and that the United States as a Pacific power will want to remain as engaged as we are now or increasingly so. It’s in America’s interests, but again, I leave that to the future leadership of our country to determine what the priorities ought to be.

We just think on the part of the Obama Administration this is exactly the kind of thing that we need to be doing to best promote America’s interests at home and abroad in terms of looking for economic opportunity, in terms of looking to see where there is beneficial relationships, and recognizing again that we are a Pacific power and that – again, not to take away from our relationships with our European partners or what we’re doing in Latin America or our engagement in Africa and throughout the Middle East, but it’s something that, again, we felt as an Administration it was important to zero in on. And that’s what I think you’ll see, you have seen, and will continue to see a very extensive diplomatic engagement as we look to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

Again, thank you for having me. I’ve enjoyed coming to see you, and hopefully we can make this a more regular occurrence. Thank you so much.

# # #